A successful interior design project doesn’t always mean a complete structural overhaul. Sometimes simply accentuating a home’s existing charms is infinitely more impactful. Art and Maura Oliver’s grand abode on a secluded road on the North Shore already had plenty such charms: beautiful millwork, elegant fireplaces, coffered ceilings and generous windows that welcomed ample sunlight. “It was the loveliest home, and it really just needed some updating and tweaking,” designer Amy Kartheiser says.
Of course, it also needed to accommodate the fact that three boys—aged 15, 12 and 6—were in residence. “We definitely wanted something that we would love to entertain in, but that was livable for our family,” Art says. “There’s no sense in having a family couch that we don’t really want anybody to ever sit on. We wanted it so that we would be happy to have guests over for cocktails, but also at the same time feel like the kids could hang out in the family room on a Saturday morning.”
That didn’t mean sacrificing elegance, but it did mean a lot of high-performance fabrics. In an unusual situation, the previous owners had left behind most of their furniture. The couple liked certain pieces but found them too heavy and dark, so Kartheiser revamped the coverings to be more in line with the dwelling’s updated aesthetic. She points to the dining room table and chairs as a prime example. “It could’ve been a dark moment,” she says. “But they weren’t afraid to brighten up the space with green velvet on the chairs, green-and-blue wallpaper and a colorful piece of art.”
It’s those small but impactful interventions that Kartheiser made throughout that really make the architecture sing. The bones of the house were strong, so she used color and texture—as well as a few fresh coats of white paint to replace the original beige—to accentuate the structure’s existing attributes. A geometric grass-cloth wallcovering in the sun room complements the coffered ceiling and verdant outdoor views, while in the family room, a vivid, textured blue adorns the walls. “Art isn’t much of a pattern person, but he was not afraid of this texture,” Kartheiser says. “I love when you get a textured wallpaper like a grass cloth that—especially with darker colors—fits the seaming because that brings in a lot of dimension to the walls.”
The designer also brought in pops of color elsewhere through pillows and other soft furnishings, as well as a selection of artwork from Chicago-based artists. “I love to source local pieces when I can because Chicago has some of the most premier, interesting and dynamic artists,” she says. The family room features works by Linc Thelen and Dana De Ano, in the living room are pieces from Lake Forest ceramist Kass O’Brien, a painting from Chicago artist Lynn Basa hangs in the sun room and, in the powder room, a piece from local painter Sheila Arora adorns a wall. As she does with most of her projects, Kartheiser added in some personal touches using objects sourced from her travels. Among her favorites are black-and-white patterned boxes and a tray from India, as well as a voluptuous vase she picked up in France.
While structural changes weren’t necessary throughout most of the home, one room needed a heavier-handed remodel: the kitchen. “We wanted to have the kitchen be practical and contemporary knowing that it was going to be Grand Central Station, so to speak,” Art explains. That meant bringing in a large island that the family could gather around, redoing the perimeter cabinetry and flooring, and adding in a steam oven and custom range hood, which Kartheiser describes as “a piece of jewelry for the kitchen.” She also positioned the refrigerator and freezer as built-ins on one wall, adding in custom refrigerator drawers alongside cabinets and appliance garages to make the kitchen more user-friendly and visually harmonious.
Funnily enough, Art reveals, the project started out with just the kitchen remodel. “But then you see how good something turns out and you say, ‘Well, we have to do all the living spaces now,’” he laughs. And Kartheiser gave them exactly what the family wanted: balance. “What I like most about it is the ease when we’re having people over for dinner,” Art notes. “The transition from the kitchen to the living room for cocktails and then into the dining room makes it a great place to entertain.”